michael henry
keller
multi-platform
journalist
michael is a journalist in New York City.
He speaks two languages and writes code in
five. Click on about to read more.
Read his clips by clicking on the tabs to the right.

about


Michael is the Senior Data Reporter for Newsweek & The Daily Beast. To know more about his recent work, here's an article that AdWeek wrote about the work he's done there: This Is What Newsweek's Digital Future Will Look Like NewsBeast Labs team creating, teaching digital journalism, and he wrote a round-up in January of projects from his first six months. You'll find the most recent projects and behind-the-scenes posts at the NewsBeast Labs tumblr.

He was recently one of the inaugural investigative reporters at the New York World, an all-digital investigative publication focused on New York government -- think ProPublica but for New York city and state. Before that he was a Carnegie-Knight Fellow at News21 where he produced print, video, and interactive story packages on America's aging population for the Washington Post. His Our Future Selves interactive won second place at the Global Editors Network Data Journalism Awards in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Information is Beautiful Awards. Michael has worked as a neuropsychology researcher in Marseille, France and as a graphic designer in Washington D.C. He graduated from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism a little over two years ago now, concentrating in digital media.

More info: Github, Twitter, LinkedIn

visual work

Guardian
Stop Question and Frisk
3/20/12

Arrests for New York marijuana possession rise

Cleaned data, reported, and visualized an interactive for the Guardian showing that low-level marijuana arrests increased despite an official NYPD order last year to cease making such arrests.

Washington Post
Our Future Selves: An interactive feature
8/1/11

Our Future Selves: an interactive feature

Produced a written piece and an interactive feature for The Washington Post in partnership with News21 published to answer the questions: How will the country's demographics change over the next 40 years? How does our sex, race and ethnicity affect our health, now and later? What does the financial picture look like for retirees? This interactive allows users to enter their information and get answers, using the best projections from economists, biostatisticians and demographers.

Article link.

Interactive link.

UPDATE May 2012: We were delighted that the Global Editors Network, supported by Google, nominated this story for the first ever International Digital Journalism Awards in the National / International Data Visualization and Storytelling category. We're up against some tough competition from the Economist, the Guardian, the BBC and the list goes on. My partners Emily Liedel, Jason Alcorn and I were quite honored to be included!

UPDATE June 2012: We won second place behind the Guardian's Reading the Riots Interactive

WNYC
Rate New York's privately owned public spaces
9/14/11

Rate New York's privately owned public spaces

Produced a written piece and an interactive feature for The Washington Post in partnership with News21 published to answer the questions: How will the country's demographics change over the next 40 years? How does our sex, race and ethnicity affect our health, now and later? What does the financial picture look like for retirees? This interactive allows users to enter their information and get answers, using the best projections from economists, biostatisticians and demographers.

Where Albany legislators drew (and redrew) district lines
3/13/12

Where Albany legislators drew (and redrew) district lines

A news-app that lets you compare multiple proposals for each chamber using a fading slider.

The New York World
2/2/12

Why brokering the New York City budget is like an endless trip to Ikea

An animated explainer on New York City's budget process. How it works and what's at stake.

Albany Times-Union
Redistricting: Have More Get More
2/13/12

Redistricting: Have more get more

Majority parties would benefit most from proposed new Senate, Assembly districts

A re-tallying of the last legislative elections under proposed Senate and Assembly lines showing majority party gains under the lines drawn by that party. Published on A1 of the Albany Times-Union

You can enter your address to zoom to your district and its voting results in the last election and the calculated results under each proposal.

Article link.

Interactive link.

Albany Times-Union

Tactic #1 Cracking

Redistricting the art of war: Cracking

Tactic #2 Kidnapping

Redistricting the art of war: Kidnapping

Tactic #3 Diluting

Redistricting the art of war: Diluting

Tactic #4 Dividing

Redistricting the art of war: Dividing

Tactic #5 Decoying

Redistricting the art of war: Decoying
2/13/12

Redistricting the art of war: A guide to reading between the lines

What partisan tactics have legislators used this year?

An illustrated guide to state redistricting proposals.

written work

City & State
Cuomo's misssing records Governor Paterson's Record Retention Schedule obtained through FOIL request.
12/22/11

The Mystery of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s missing records

An investigative story published with City & State on Gov. Cuomo's questionable track record of preserving records.
This story prompted a similar investigation by the Albany Times-Union and more follow-up. After three months, all Freedom of Information requests to see the Cuomo's records from his time as Attorney General have been stalled.

***

A year ago, as Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo prepared to move out of the state attorney general’s office after one term, his records officer directed staff to pack old memos, along with hard copies of emails, press releases and other correspondence, in large boxes.

The records, documenting the inner workings of Cuomo and his administration, were destined for the State Archives for “permanent historical preservation,” according to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua.

That much is known. The whereabouts of the records since then remain a mystery.

“I can tell you right now the records of the attorney general aren’t in the Archives,” said Robert Bullock, spokesman for the New York State Archives.

Cuomo is the only attorney general to have an empty shelf at the Archives, according to James Folts, the Archive’s head of researcher services. Bullock says records sometimes go into holding facilities and not directly to the Archives, but that the agency that shipped the records would be able to know more. Repeated inquiries to the attorney general’s and governor’s offices have not yielded any further information about the documents’ whereabouts.

The strange case of Cuomo’s missing records has gained urgency in the wake of recent reports that presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, made a deliberate effort to destroy records of his tenure in office, spending nearly $100,000 replacing old computers and their hard drives at the end of his term and subsequently destroying 150 boxes of paper records.

[...]

The Atlantic
An Oral Historian's Take on 9/11 In an age of 24-hour news coverage, personal memories can get lost in the noise. It's Mary Marshall Clark's job to turn off the TV and listen. (Photo: Michael Keller)
9/7/11

New York Stories: An Oral Historian Takes on 9/11

A feature profile of Mary Marshall Clark, an oral historian who has spent the last ten years studying 9/11's effect on New Yorkers through their recollections of the event. The story was the lead story on theAtlantic.com's National vertical and featured in their 9/11 story package during the days leading up to the ten year anniversary of September 11th.

***

On September 12, 2001, Mary Marshall Clark started the day setting out for work -- and ended up beginning a job that has occupied her for the last 10 years. The city, she remembers, was eerily quiet for a place where people usually don't stop talking. "There was a strong feeling you had to keep going and not look -- not to think about it -- just keep going with your work," she says. Clark did both.

In the days following the World Trade Center attacks, Clark, one of the world's foremost oral historians, started an interview project analyzing the role September 11 played in New Yorkers' lives and how these New York stories differ from what 9/11 has come to mean in the national media. Ten years later, after thousands of hours of interviews and tens of thousands of pages of transcripts, Clark is beginning to understand what it all means.

Clark is the director of the Columbia Center for Oral History, a single room on the eighth floor of Columbia University's main campus library. No elevator goes to the eighth floor; to get to it, you walk up two flights and follow a narrow white hallway lined with appointment-only study cubicles. On one side, you'll find a single door with a frosted glass window and a small placard identifying the office.

This little-known office, whose interior Clark designed, is one open space with dark wood molding and glass half-wall dividers between desks -- meant to break down the office hierarchies and encourage conversation. The office's high ceilings and skylights fill it with light, illuminating books upon books that follow a wraparound walkway along the walls, like an antique library.

The September 11th Oral History Narrative and Memory Project set out to understand how the attacks affected the lives of everyday New Yorkers over three years following the attacks. After the attacks, Clark turned off her TV out of concern about her son viewing violent imagery. But as an oral historian -- a member of a profession that seeks to collect and preserve a diversity of voices -- removing the images on television was symbolic of what 10 years of analysis has led Clark to believe: September 11 has many meanings for New Yorkers, but media's version is far from the truth.

[...]

City & State
Intro29 Vote City Council member Gale Brewer (left), with Technology Committee chair Fernando Cabrera (right) at yesterday's vote on a measure opening city data to the public, expects a "technological revolution." Photo: Michael Keller
12/22/11

Council votes today on law to liberate (most of) New York City’s data

A story assessing New York City's "landmark" open data law that its backers call revolutionary but good government and technology groups remain skeptical, particularly since earlier drafts included much stronger language.

***

UPDATE: Intro 29A passed the full City Council on Wednesday afternoon by a 48-0 vote.

The City Council Committee on Technology passed a landmark measure yesterday that would require all public data maintained by city agencies to be published in a single online portal and made accessible to the public through application programming interfaces (APIs) and other digital formats. The measure, Intro 29A, will go before the full City Council this afternoon.

Currently, New York City government data is available on a scattering of websites in a range of formats, and much important data remains difficult or impossible for outsiders to analyze or republish. The NYC OpenData portal currently hosts several hundred datasets handpicked by city agencies for use by software developers, including those participating in the BigApps competition. Yet many crucial city information systems, such as the Department of Buildings’ online records of construction permits and code violations, remain off-limits to outside reuse.

In a prelude to the committee vote, the bill’s primary sponsor, Councilmember Gale Brewer, said the measure “will make sure New York is at the forefront of any government transparency and technological revolution in terms of government openness.”

[...]

City & State
Intro29 VoteTenants with cases in New York City housing court, including this one in Queens, will find their names on lists sold to landlords. (Photo: Riyad Hasan/Queens Chronicle)
12/22/11

State courts pressed to deter misuse of tenant records

After four years of promises, the New York Office of Court Administration has left defendants' and plaintiffs' personal data more at risk than ever.

***

A judge has refused to block New York State from selling housing court data to companies that promise to help landlords screen out troublesome tenants.

The decision late last year by State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower of Manhattan has reactivated calls by some members of the state legislature to curb misuse of public records by companies that buy the information from government agencies. Tenant advocates have long complained that the information is used by some property owners to reject applicants for housing who merely asserted their right to a court hearing.

Four years ago, Manhattan state senators Liz Krueger, Thomas Duane and Eric Schneiderman (now state Attorney General) and others secured a promise from the state Office of Court Administration to better protect people’s personal information when it sells court records to commercial data vendors. Most of the promised measures have not been implemented.

“I am a bit horrified that the New York State Unified Court System said they were doing X in January 2008 and we’re here in January 2012 having a discussion about how they haven’t done any of this,” said Krueger. She says she has been meeting with advocates and other elected officials to discuss a renewed push for rules restricting the delivery and use of the data. “We have a new Chief Judge, we have a new administration, there’s a new group of players and it’s very high on my list to follow up.”

[...]

City & State
Sarah KaufmanSarah Kaufman was one of the prime movers behind the MTA becoming transparent with its data. (Photo: Courtesy Patrick Cashin, MTA)
12/22/11

Exit Interview: MTA’s openness wizard talks transparency

How does a government agency get excited about transparency. Sarah Kaufman explains how it happened at the MTA.

***

Before 2008, the only way to obtain the Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway or bus schedule was through a freedom of information request. Today, the public has electronic access not only to MTA schedules, maps and service advisories on every conceivable technology platform but can also engage with the authority through social media and remix MTA data into websites and software applications.

Sarah Kaufman wore many hats at the MTA, including developer liaison, AppQuest contest organizer, and social media coordinator. She sat down with The New York World shortly after she left the MTA in December to explain how a stubbornly insular government organization like the MTA begins to open its information to the public. Kaufman is now a research associate at NYU Wagner’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

In practice, how does a New York City agency, or authority like the MTA, become more open?

It doesn’t have as much to do with the step-by-step process as it does the drive to do it. The drive can either come from inside, as it has with DoITT [Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications] and transportation properties in Portland, Oregon or in San Francisco. Or, it’ll come from the outside, which is what happened at MTA. There’s pressure, the pressure has to mount and then there has to be a culture shift to say, ‘Yes, we will do this.’

Once people are on board — and they may have to be convinced one by one, which was the case at MTA — then they eventually see the value of it, usually.

What was the start of the external push to open up MTA data?

The Open Transit Data meet-up was meeting regularly and sending letters to MTA and then they reached out to [Councilmember] Gale Brewer, who is a huge advocate for open data, and she signed on to a petition. Having her name on something and having this very public pressure was the final step in getting it going at MTA.

The meet-up was sponsored by the Open Planning project, which is now OpenPlans. It was a set of developers who were already using MTA data but who wanted a legitimate feed.

But there was no coordination between the MTA and the city and that was to my chagrin because there are so many things that could be collaborated on very easily but there are so many political barriers that maybe it’s just above my pay grade but they don’t make sense to me.

[...]

Washington Post
Produced by Dewi Cooke, Melissa Galvez & Michael Keller. Edited by Michael Keller. Partners in Care from Our Future Selves.
9/2/11

Work placement programs struggle to handle influx of elderly job seekers

A video and written story for the Washington Post on the difficulties seniors face returning to the workforce and training as home health aides.

The video appeared on the WashingtonPost.com and written story was published online and in the printed edition.

***

Kathleen Smith, a veteran teacher, planned to finance her retirement with money from the sale of her Arizona home. When it failed to sell after a year on the market and the bank foreclosed on it, she moved to New York City to be close to her youngest son and grandson and tried to find work. Eventually, she found her way to Partners in Care, which trains home health aides and places them with elderly or disabled clients. Smith, now 63, didn’t picture her retirement years this way.

Although employers have started to recognize the value of older workers, people past traditional retirement age who want or need to remain in the workforce can struggle to find jobs. They might have to tackle new fields, and they often find that wages in a second career are lower.

Maria Serrano, senior employment director for the New York City Department for the Aging, said the number of older people seeking work has grown in recent years. Last year, her office placed about 1,000 such employees, partly through its office training and job placement program for workers older then 55 with less than $25,000 annual income. The department pays $7.25 an hour during training and most commonly places older workers as home health aides or security guards, Serrano said.

[...]

The Brooklyn Ink
An Oral Historian's Take on 9/11This collection of rabbinical portraits adorns the mantlepiece of Rabbi Sason Azar’s Brooklyn home. (Photo: Michael Keller).
2/10/10

The Dead Rabbi Society of Brooklyn

A longform piece on a Brooklyn phenomenon.

***

There are ghosts in Midwood and to understand the neighborhood it is essential to know them. You can hear their names still spoken in reverent tones, as if the men they referred to were still alive. Or, you can find their faces in picture frames on fireplaces, in modest Orthodox homes off of Ocean Parkway. In the beginning I only knew of their names. But I wanted to know more.

The question was never phrased as, “Have you heard of him ?” or “Do you know of him?” with any of the usual markers to suggest that the person in question was not someone you could walk up to in the flesh and introduce yourself to, but rather had passed into the realm of the un-meetable, and, as I would find out, unknowable. But that wasn't how it happened. In a voice clear and straightforward I was asked, as I would be asked many times after, “Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Do you know him?”

I was speaking with Chaim Brog, a student in religious school.

He was a great man, Chaim explained, who made people more thankful for God and influenced thousands of lives. If I wanted to know more about him, I should speak with Chaim's own father, he said. It would be great to talk directly to Rabbi Miller, I reply. And if Chaim weren't speaking in the past tense, my request to meet Rabbi Miller wouldn't have confused Chaim like it did. But Chaim spoke about Rabbi Miller as though he were the most important person to know, as if he were present, there in the room. And if you knew him you knew, in essence, the whole neighborhood.

Chaim replied, though, that Rabbi Miller had been dead for nine years.

And Chaim wasn't alone in thinking of Rabbi Miller like that. Thirty-thousand people attended his funeral when he died. He had taught in the Flatbush Midwood area from 1944 to 2001. He was known for his strict adherence to Jewish law and as a teacher of precise observance, he brought people to a closer awareness of God. As Chaim explains it, Rabbi Miller made people realize “that everything we have is a total gift from God, so we owe God our full devotion.”

[...]

The Brooklyn Ink
Tattoos of BrooklynFrederick Terna and Altaf Hussein both received tattoos in the 1940s from very different places. How they both came to live in Brooklyn is part of that story. (Painting: "The Name on Fire" Frederick Terna).
11/8/10

Tattoos of Brooklyn, from Pakistan and Germany: Marked, only skin deep

A double profile of two men, living in Brooklyn and what their tattoos -- one from Auschwitz the other from a 1947 Pakistani independence carnival -- have come to mean for them.

***

This is the story of two tattoos of ordinary things. One man’s is six numbers, the other’s is a crescent and a star. They were meant to mark the two forever and they failed.

Frederick Terna has been many things. A student of poetry. Amateur historian.

Professor of art. Lecturer. Painter. Spy. When he was a child, his home in Prague was filled with music. And for roughly three and a half years he was interned under the Nazis.

During the same time, Altaf Hussain was growing up on the other side of the world in a country that was not quite India. When he was older he would come to love travelling and he dreamt of being a singer in India. But at 10 years old in 1947 he was a nationalist. They were making a country for Muslims, he heard them say, and Pakistan was going to be his home.

A few miles from one another in Brooklyn is where they both ended up.

On Wednesdays in Prague, Terna’s relatives would come over with their instruments, violins, and horns, to his house with two pianos. “They would sit around, talk, and make music,” he says, “I vividly remember one of them saying, ‘You call that an interpretation?’ And somebody else says, ’Shut up, and you play it!’ I got my love for chamber music from that time.”

Years later, Terna was a teenager in a concentration called Linden bei Deutsch-Brod or Lipa in what is now the Czech Republic. There he taught fellow prisoners the history of Poland, drawing the expanding and retracting borders in the sand. In Thereisenstadt, another camp, he learned the metrics and movements of European poetry from fellow prisoners who had been poets in another life.

In Thereisenstadt in 1943, Terna was 20 years old. He spent most of the time with his father and the other men in the tuberculosis ward. There they debated politics and argued over what should be done with Germany after the war. Terna listened. I was aware that my education—my formal education—had ended long, long before and I thought ‘I need some information. I need to learn something outside the usual channels.’” There was another kind of education too. For the men in the ward, he says, Terna would sneak into Gestapo buildings and steal military reports carrying news of the war.

The Nazis had taken control of Prague in 1938, when he was 15 years old. They marched in to the city on March 15, 1939 instituting laws against Jews: the yellow star was worn, radios were confiscated, telephones were cut. He hid for a time, working as a messenger outside the city, but the Gestapo picked him up twice for reasons he does not know and, he says, are largely unimportant. He went to his first camp, Linden bei Deutschbrod, or Lipa in Czech on October 3, 1941. He was transferred to Thereisenstadt in March 1943. “Some dates,” he says, “are memorable.”

Thereisenstadt is where he started painting. But he says that is unimportant.

[...]